Thursday, February 9, 2012
Stacey Sutera made her fear of Robert P. McLaughlin clear in December 2010:
“McLaughlin’s actions are clearly designed to cause me mental distress and fear of physical harm. I live in constant fear. My dog has been killed. My daughter and I are in danger,” she said in support of a civil protection order, which she was granted.
The sex-offender suspect in Wednesday’s murder of the 40-year-old teacher at her Canfield apartment was on probation for felony charges stemming from harassing and stalking her.
Now, authorities here and throughout the state are on the lookout for him. He is described as ex-military and armed and dangerous.
Police said McLaughlin had been harassing Sutera since March 2010 by sending emails threatening to reveal personal information about her.
McLaughlin was sentenced Nov. 29 to five years’ probation and 500 hours of community service and fined $2,500.
The conviction required him to register as a Tier I Sex Offender with his county sheriff’s department annually for 15 years. Additionally, Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court ordered McLaughlin, 64, of Marsh Lane, Painesville, to take anger-management classes and have no contact with the victim.
Carla Baldwin-Fields, an assistant Mahoning County prosecutor, recommended probation for McLaughlin on the six fifth-degree felony charges that each carried a potential 12 months in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.
“He has to now register as a sex offender so we will always know where he is,” Fields told a Vindicator reporter at the time.
“He’s not been in any trouble, and he had a clean record,” said McLaughlin’s lawyer, Ruth Fischbein Cohen, at the sentencing hearing. “He’s no threat whatsoever. ... He certainly intends to abide by the court’s orders,” Cohen added.
She wouldn’t discuss those comments Wednesday, saying she was not yet aware of Wednesday’s events.
Fischbein Cohen said she had not been contacted by McLaughlin on Wednesday and, citing attorney-client privilege, would not comment on her relationship with the suspect since November.
As far as McLaughlin’s attending anger-management classes, Fischbein Cohen said “she wouldn’t begin to know.”
It was Judge Sweeney’s belief that “a nonprison sanction will properly punish,” she said in court during the sentencing hearing.
On Wednesday, Judge Sweeney noted that the prosecution, defense and Ohio Adult Parole Authority’s pre-sentence investigation recommended probation.
“It was his first offense,” she said, adding that, as far as she knew, no violence was threatened or inflicted at that time against the victim.
“He didn’t present any of these issues” concerning violence while the case was pending before her, she added.
“The guidelines recommend not giving them prison,” the judge said of low-level felony first offenders. “There was really nothing that popped out at me that said he has to go to prison,” she said of McLaughlin. “He didn’t present himself as a threatening type of person.”
If McLaughlin is captured and charged in the homicide and is found to be in violation of his probation, the violation could cause him to be sent to prison, she noted. A probation violation could result in her sending him to prison for up to six years.
PREVIOUSLY IN COURT
McLaughlin is a retired member of the military and a retired U.S. Postal Service employee. He was arrested in his home Dec. 8, 2010, after Canfield police executed a search warrant.
He was sentenced to six months in Mahoning County jail after pleading guilty in December 2010 in Mahoning County Area Court in Canfield to related charges of misdemeanor telephone harassment and menacing by stalking.
“We got what we could out of this guy. ... We got the six months in jail” on the misdemeanor charge, which was served in its entirety, and McLaughlin pleaded guilty as charged to the felonies, said Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains on Wednesday.
“He had no criminal record” before these charges, Gains said. “He was convicted of low-level felonies. Under the law, there is a presumption of community control sanctions” (probation) in such low level-felony cases, Gains said.
“I don’t see how Judge Sweeney could have legally sent him to prison,” he said, adding the five years’ probation is the maximum allowed by Ohio law.
“It’s a damned shame it happened,” Gains said of the homicide. “The judge isn’t clairvoyant. ... There was no indication that he was going to engage in a violent act against her,” Gains said.
“He threatened her reputation. There were no physical threats against her” from him, Gains added.
In a civil case, McLaughlin was under a civil protection order from Magistrate Eugene J. Fehr of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, effective until Dec. 27, 2015, barring McLaughlin from having a firearm or from having any contact with the victim.
In her affidavit in support of that order, Sutera said the criminal charges then pending against McLaughlin “all relate to his course of conduct designed to cause me mental distress and/or fear of physical harm.”
She added: “I do not believe that the conditions of bail are sufficient to guarantee my safety and request this civil stalking order.”
Gains said his chief assistant prosecutor, Nicholas Modarelli, was at the homicide scene Wednesday morning.
A police report from the original case said detectives found photos of the victim, pornographic material, stacks of papers listing names and addresses of Ohio and Pennsylvania schools, as well as various businesses, computer equipment; and business cards with the victim’s ex-boyfriend’s name on them.
In addition to the emails, letters containing a website with fabricated sexual information about the victim and business cards stating the victim would perform specific sexual acts were mailed to business owners, school administrators and teachers throughout Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties and parts of Pennsylvania, the report said.
In October 2010, Canfield school personnel received letters with return addresses to the victim and cards inside stating that the victim would do various sexual things, police said. Papers also were left on car windshields at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center advertising the woman for sexual favors.
Police detailed various Web pages concerning the woman and other material sent to educators throughout the county describing the woman sexually. The woman’s car also had been scratched, leaving foul words on its doors.
Canfield police said they were able to determine that McLaughlin was behind the harassment after receiving billing information from a French Internet company that purports to let people “get revenge on their ex.” The site states it is intended to be humorous “with a mean streak.”
Exactly a year before her murder, Sutera filed a civil lawsuit against McLaughlin in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court seeking $1.5 million, citing intentional infliction of emotional distress, libel and invasion of privacy.
In the suit, which had been set for mediation in May, Sutera, through her attorney, said that she met McLaughlin in 2000 and they were social acquaintances but that he abused the relationship.
In September 2010, McLaughlin sent Sutera an email “indicating he had visited Canfield, where [Sutera] resides, and had seen her dogs in the yard,” the lawsuit says. “Subsequent to this email, one of the plaintiff’s dogs was killed.”
In June 2010, he “caused to be delivered via U.S. mail a used condom which contained a white liquid substance with a letter attached advising [Sutera] to ‘drink up ...,’ the suit says.
In December 2010, the website “Get Revenge on your Ex” responded to a Canfield police inquiry and advised that McLaughlin had established the websites and had purchased the “tart cards” — and had bought the “used condom,” the civil suit says.